Monday, April 27, 2015

An Interview with Tom Spencer

Jackie Huppenthal

This year, IWC’s Power of Poetry Project instituted a special award to be given when a student writes a poem that is an exemplar of the highest quality poetry. The picture above shows Tom Spencer with fourth grader Gloria Radford, the first winner of the Tom Spencer Award.
Tom Spencer is a published poet and writer who has been writing for over 50 years. He is the founder of the Northwest Indiana Poetry Society and belongs to several other writing groups. Tom is also active in the Indiana State Federation of State Poetry Societies.
When did you start writing poetry?
It was in the 8th grade. I got glasses and was finally able to read and catch up on what I had been missing. My teacher, Alice Peterson, introduced me to poetry. I read it excessively and started writing poetry immediately. Not too long ago I talked to an older woman who came to listen to my poetry and we talked about Alice. It turns out she was my elementary school principal.
Do you have a favorite poet? / poem?
My favorite poem is “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. He composed the last stanza then worked backwards to write the story. I memorized it in its entirety back then and even named my daughter Lenore after the “radiant maiden” in the poem.
What topics do you write about?
I write about ecology to world affairs, love and romance, but I prefer to write about social responsibility. I wrote poems to my wife even before she was my wife.
What is your favorite poetic form?
I enjoy all forms of poetry but my favorite is the sonnet. It is the basic core. It has a beginning, middle, end, and a twist.
How many books have you published?
I have published two books. The first was Word Castles, a collection of poetry published in 2000 by Writers’ Village University. It was reprinted in 2007. The second was America on Fire, which was coauthored with Dr. Jaswinder Singh. It is “a Poetic Tribute to the Memories of September 11, 2001.” Both of us did intensive writing for over a month to get the book published by the end of the year.
How many groups do you belong to?
I currently belong to about eight writing groups including Indiana Writers’ Consortium and Write-On Hoosiers.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing poetry?
Ninety-nine percent of writing is reading. Read often, write what you feel. I write every day. The poems I write come from short stories. The short stories are written more for me but the poems are for everyone.
How do you feel about having a children’s poetry award in your honor?
It is an overwhelming honor. I had no idea I was this well respected. I was nominated for Indiana Poet Laureate a decade ago and had 76 letters of support from around the world. This, however, is a bigger honor to me.
What other accomplishment are you most proud of?
I brought the National Federation of State Poetry Societies national convention to Merrillville, Indiana in 2012. It was a wonderful experience.
Tom, you have been an inspiration to me and many others. I keep a quote from you propped up in front of my computer and look at it daily:

“A poem captures the rhythms of life in words.” Tom Spencer

It certainly does. Thanks for sharing your time and talent! Now, let’s take a selfie.

Tom Spencer's first Selfie
with Jackie Huppenthal

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